Lacrimosa dies illa

The sky was filled with black clouds, swirling, brooding, casting crooked shadows on the ground, just like the day it happened. It was a month ago. Who would have thought a month would make such a difference to the way someone views the world?

‘I’m trying to hold on for one more day,’ Cecile said over coffee.’ Just one, but it is a disappointment to wake up in the morning. I hate to say that. I hate to sound ungrateful for this life I’ve been given but every night before I go to bed I pray I won’t wake up in the morning.’

I eat the froth from my latte. It lodges in the back of my throat, inedible as plastic, making me cough. Last month Cecile found out she was pregnant. She has been seeing this guy Alfie and I know for about 18 months and at 40, had given up thinking she would ever have a child. Then it happened.
She was delighted. Max wasn’t.

Max has a child from a previous marriage. The divorce was acrimonious. The custody battle was bloody, gut-wrenching. He vowed never to have any more children. Trouble was, he forgot to tell Cecile that.

Max suggested Cecile have an abortion. Strongly suggested. Cecile refused. Max cajoled. Strongly cajoled. Cecile refused. Max laid down an ultimatum coated in blood. Me or the child, painting their childless life together as one big happy ever after party. Cecile relented.

I saw her the day after she had the abortion. A month ago. A day like today. Glowering clouds congregating like soldiers from the afterlife threatening to reach down and pluck us mere humans from the ground and toy with us a bit before setting us free. A chill coming up from the Antarctic. A drab, dull, joyless day where hope seems buried.

She stood in the street like a wraith. Hunched into herself, waiting for ages on the side of the road. I feared she was about to step into the traffic so I ran across the road. She looked at me as if I was a stranger. She was carrying a paper bag full of apples. Red as the acrylic paint you buy in tubes from the craft store. There was a tear in the bag, near the seam and one by one the apples spilled out falling onto the road. I tried to gather them but they spun and twirled on the slick asphalt until they were crushed by oncoming cars. Cecile fell to her knees, weeping, crying over and over :’My apples. My apples.’

‘Don’t worry,’ I said. ‘We’ll get you some more.’
‘There are no more,’ she said.

She told me then, clutching the empty paper bag, of her abortion.
‘It didn’t hurt,’ she said. Then walked away, slowly, like a much older lady, up the hill.

Now we are sitting, drinking coffee, talking of regret. Cecile is ashamed she wanted to keep her man more than she wanted to keep her child. She is ashamed she gave in so readily. She realises it may have been her last chance to become a mother. Max is sticking to his guns, telling her she did the right thing, telling her he loves her more than any other, but she is beginning to question a love that comes with such insurmountable conditions.

‘The first thing he said when I came out of the operating theatre was “Did you do it?” Not “Are you in pain?” or “Do you feel OK?” but “Did you get rid of it?” And when I said I had he looked relieved.’ Cecile is talking matter-of-factly, but she is stirring her coffee so frantically drops of it begin to spill all over the table. ‘I thought I wanted to have the abortion. I thought I could deal with it, but now I know I really didn’t want to. I wanted the baby. I wanted the little baby. And now it is gone for good. And when I wake up in the morning the first thing I think of is my baby is dead. And I turn and look at Max and wish it was him who had died instead.’

Cecile has quit her job. She is moving interstate to live with her mother. ‘When we were driving home from the hospital the silence between us was like a knife in my heart,’ she said. ‘I asked Max to turn on the radio and they were playing Mozart’s Requiem, the lacrimosa. Do you know what lacrimosa means?’

I know what it means. My sister wrote her University thesis on the Requiem. The lacrimosa is the most heart-wrenching part – it means the weeping. The first line is one I will never forget.

lacrimosa dies illa

which means , mournful that day. I can see the agony in Cecile’s eyes. Nothing I say will come out right. I know it. I am Pro-Choice. I mean, women should have the right to choose, shouldn’t they? But I know if it came right down to it, I could never take the life of my own child. Not ever. No matter what I say I will sound judgemental at worst, incredulous at best.

Cecile shrugs. Her coffee has grown cold. ‘My life used to be green,’ she said. ‘Now it is ash.’

She walks out to the street. Her car is parked there. The back seat is full of suitcases. ‘You’re really leaving then?’ I ask. Cecile nods, starts the engine and drives off. Very soon she is at the end of the road. She doesn’t wave or look back.

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21 thoughts on “Lacrimosa dies illa

  1. You wrote that in such a way that I felt Cecile’s intense pain and hopelessness. That was a hell of an ultimatum to give someone you supposedly love more than any other. I hope Cecile finds peace some how, some way but I very much fear the agony she feels right now may never leave her.

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  2. I’m glad she left. I hope she realises her life will be green again…. but that sometimes there is a sprinkling of ash just so that we remember.

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  3. Its a shame. She should have consulted with her friends and family before going in for such a drastic decision. My heart breaks for her.

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  4. What incredible writing about such an engulfing kind of pain. You have drawn a deeply and genuinely empathetic picture punctuated with your trademark personal honesty, as always in perfect balance.

    My heart goes out to Cecile. How is it so many of us are taught to believe that this kind of manipulation and narcissistic self interest is some sort of legitimate “cost” for “love”? So often it takes such great trauma to be shaken out of that delusion.

    I so agree with Kate. There is green for Cecile once she is able to move through the ash. Blessings.

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  5. Selma, you are such a remarkable writer. You make the reader feel Cecile’s pain. I felt for her.

    I had an abortion once, in my youth. The circumstances were different, the pain was the same. For years there was such pain and sorrow. It only started to dissipate after I had my first child, eight years later. Sometimes, I still wonder what my life would be like, what my child would be doing right now if I only had not done what I did.

    I am pro-choice, my experience has not changed that. But women need to understand the price they pay when they choose that option, and most women walk into it completely unaware.

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  6. Poor, poor woman!

    She’s well rid of an unprintable like that … but what a pity she didn’t do it before aborting the child.

    I know a young woman who was in the same position, She threw her husband out, and her daughter is now a bright, intelligent 17 year ols it’s a pleasure to know.

    Travelrat
    (Wi-fi-ing from Tunisia)

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  7. Selma your writing always touches my heart. I agree with Paisley. It seems women across the ages have given their all for a man only to realize in the end the man was not worth giving the time of day. I used to be pro-choice back in my twenty’s, but to be honest, I have seen so much tragedy come from women making the choice to have an abortion that now I see that pro-choice is the ultimate of damned if we do-damned if we don’t. I think if there wasn’t a choice of ending the life of the baby, other decisions could be utilized that would not be as traumatic or permanent. My heart pains for Cecile.

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  8. PAISLEY – it beats me. It’s a really tough question to answer. I wish I knew.

    GYPSY – I hope she gets over it. She seems so frail now. I don’t think it was just losing the child that got to her, I think it was the ultimatum. I’ll love you if….how many worlds have crumbled upon hearing that?

    KATE – I’m glad she left too. I hope you’re right, I hope the green returns again. XX

    ROSHAN – and there’s the important point. She told no one she was pregnant and told no one about the abortion until afterwards. She must have felt so alone. I can’t imagine it.

    KAYT – you have summed it up much better than I ever could. What is it about love? We can split the atom, we can genetically modify our food, we can travel faster than the speed of sound, but we can’t get a handle on this thing called love. One of life’s mysteries.

    INGRID – I am so sorry for your grief. I agree with you 100%. I feel the ramifications of being Pro-Choice are not addressed well enough. I don’t think the options are explored as well as they could be. Thank you so much for sharing your story. (((((Hugs))))

    MELEAH – oh, my dear. I am so sorry. My other friend Mel, had an abortion at 17. She still thinks about the child. She was given no counselling afterwards and about 5 years ago mentioned to her doctor that it was preying on her mind and he said to her :’It’s been over 20 years, you should be over it by now.’ I couldn’t believe it. (((((Hugs)))))

    NANNA – I feel for her, I really do. I guess I feel sorrowful about the situation because I think – why does it have to be this way? Why couldn’t Max find out she was pregnant and be happy about it? I know I’m naive, and a hopeless optimist but why does life need to be so miserable for so many people? I know we can’t be happy all the time gambolling through the fields like a spring lamb, but it would be nice occasionally. Good to hear from you. I hope you’re not too exhausted from all the extra hours you’re putting in.

    TRAVELRAT – a happy ending all the way from Tunisia. You have brightened my day. You’re a regular foreign correspondent.

    CRICKET – I feel the same way. What a great way to put it – ‘the ultimate of damned if we do/damned if we don’t.’ It’s a hard decision to make in the first place – the aftermath can be even harder. I don’t know if there’s any easy solution.

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  9. Good stuff this wifi, isn’t it? Only problem I’ve run up against so far is I can;t get at YouTube or one of my email addresses.

    But, the other one works all right.

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  10. This is such a sad story. I feel for that girl, I really do. I hope she gets over it in time. Your image of her dropping the apples in the road I just found heart-wrenching. I was in tears. Life is so sad sometimes.

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  11. The things we do for men who don’t deserve them. The pain must be near unbearable – I hope Cecile will find some peace in her life.

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  12. TRAVELRAT – I am so impressed. You never cease to inspire me!

    MEL – I know you feel it, my darling. And I am sorry.

    KAREN – I am so sorry. XXXX00000XXXXX

    KATE – she is staying with her Mum now and I feel better because it will really help. I think she had no idea how bad she would feel afterwards. Life is hard sometimes, isn’t it?

    GROOVY – awww, I have missed you. It is an overwhelming situation. Part of me can’t believe it has happened knowing the two people involved as I do. I would never have expected them to make such a decision.

    POET – Cecile wanted me to say something about it. It’s been a heart-wrenching time for her. I hope it helps her in some way.

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  13. I was reading this hoping it was fiction, but you usually indicate if it is a story. How overwhelmingly sad for this poor woman. I hope she finds peace too.

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